Mrs Hazel Jacques came to Highfields in 1942.
This is Lindsay Casselden recording an interview with Mrs Hazel Jacques, on the 20th June, 1994.
Well now, Mrs Jacques, could you tell me first of all, where you were born and if you like, what your age is?
My name is Mrs Hazel Jacques and I was born off Saffron Lane on Repington Road, 1934. My age is 60.
Yes. that was in Highfields of course,
No, that was Saffron Lane Estate.
Ah. Right, so you moved to Highfields?
Yes, when my parents were ill and we had to go in a home.
And the home was in Highfields?
The home was on Mill Hill Lane to start with, then they send you to either a home for boys or a home for girls. The home for girls was on East Park Road.
Can you tell me about it, how it was run and how many children there were?
Well, when you first go there, it's the receiving home on Mill Hill Lane which is Highfields, and Matron Berridge ran that. It was for the poor years ago. And then any children that looked as if they were going to stay and couldn't return home, they went to Miss Hammonds on East Park Road, which I think is still Highfields.
She used to go to St Peter's Church, we went to St Stephen's Church, on East Park Road.
can you tell me about how the days were spent? Did you actually go out of the home to School, you went to local school?
Yes, we went to Bridge Road Girls' School and Moat Road School. First of all, we got up in the morning and we had to do a job, for example, dust the bedroom floor or get the coal in, or, get the breakfast ready. Then we went to school and at dinner time we had to do all the washing up before we left and it used to be a two hour dinner time then because it was double summer-time and or an hour and a half, it was a long dinner time anyway and then after school we'd have more jobs to do in the evening like getting the potatoes done and ready for the next day, all the potato peelings were taken down to the pig-swill bins which were all collected from East Park Road. We were not allowed to go out after school.
So you weren't able to go out and play with other children in the area, you were separate?
How did you feel about living in the home?
We didn't mind it at all really, because on Saturday afternoon we went to the Evington cinema and if we didn't, we'd go to church on Sunday, every Sunday.
There was a family of Catholics who came to live with us as well and they went to the Sacred Heart up the hill. They were given priority really because they had to go to confirmation classes after school and things like that. They got a bit more time to get out of the home than we did, you know? And then from the end of the war we went a bit further afield, because when we went to the Evington cinema, the manager there saw us and I had asked him if he could save us some seats! Sometimes we were a bit late getting there. The Evington cinema manager was Mr Bowland. I think he was something to do with the councillors of Leicester. He let us into the cinema for free! We all went upstairs and then instead of spending the pocket money we went for a walk to one of the girl's father's houses. We went and cleaned up for him. He used to work at the Leicester Mercury offices. He was a shift worker and course it was nice for him to come home and have his fire made and table laid for one.
So you saw your parents?
Yes, we used to go to the hospital for our chest X-rays.
Ah, did your parents have tuberculosis?
So were you able to write letters to them or anything like that?
Well in the early days, they asked us to write a letter to them, and I wrote how awful it was. My sister used to wet the bed!
They used to tell her off, this was at the receiving home on Mill Hill Lane.
We all wrote a letter to our parents in hospital, how we didn't like it, and they made us work scrubbing the floors or dusting the bedrooms! Matron read the letters, I mean she shouldn't have. Then she said, "Well, you can't write that," she says, "You'll have to do it again." She gave me another piece of paper and told me what to write because then she knew how I really felt about her.
Gosh, as though you were in prison, really!
As though it was some sort of punishment!
Yeah, that's right, we used to call it The Prison!
But things were better when you went to the girls' section.
Oh yes, it was much better yes. My brother ran away 'cos he went in the homes with us, my brother Norman went to live with my mother's sister at Thurmaston. We went to the girls' home, and then from then on we used to have to go for a chest X-ray at Groby Road, and then we used to go and visit them while they were there, so that was quite nice.
How old were you when you first went into the home?
How long did you stay there?
Until I was fourteen.
Ah, so it was really most of your childhood?
And you had a sister with you?
Two sisters. Doris and Edna.
Were they older or younger?
Younger. A year between us.
And your brother?
My brother Norman was 12 when he went to stay with my aunty Rose.
Were the three of you able to keep together?
Not over the first few years, but then they developed a shadow on their lungs, so they had to go in hospital.
Oh! So you were on your own in the home?
Yes well, that was just towards the end you know, when it was nearly school leaving age. In the meantime, Matron Berridge retired from the receiving home, and then the homes were amalgamated with the Countesthorpe Cottage Homes. The Countesthorpe Cottage Homes really bullied kids. The people who ran them were like little Hitlers! I thought we were hard done to sometimes, but nothing like them. They would do things like pull a door on someones head, you know, and they said, "Ooh, you walked into the door, didn't you!" There was one girl, she'd been there ever since she was a baby. Her name was Laura, she was lovely you know. We made friends with her.
There was a Roman Catholic girl who I was forever squabbling and fighting. She was the eldest, and I was second eldest. Well I'd been in the home about 2 years, and I felt it wasn't fair that she should come just for a month and then she was the eldest! So I had to go to Countesthorpe for my punishment. I used to scrub the floors there until 10 o'clock at night!
Yeah, that was a wicked place, at Countesthorpe.
They said that I'd eaten a rhubarb pie, and I had to go to the superintendent for a punishment. But I never got it, because, well, I don't think he really believed it anyway! I mean how can somebody eat a rhubarb pie without having the runs while they were sitting there!
What was the food like generally? Was it nice food?
Oh, the food was very good, and the clothing-
we were always well clothed.
Did they choose the clothes for you?
No, we had what was always handed down, they were always brown tweed coats and berets, and blazers and school tunics and blouses.
So you had a uniform really?
Like a uniform, yes.
You couldn't choose your own things at all?
Oh no, no! Our clothes were taken off us as soon as we got there!
I never saw them again.
Did they say what sort of hairstyle you had to have?
Yes, it had to be cut short with a ribbon in it. Yeah. It wasn't until one of the little girls, one of the Catholic girls came in (her name was Margaret), with black ringlets, (oh, she was pretty) she didn't want her to have her hair cut, so we said we wouldn't have ours cut either. You couldn't cut those ringlets off you know, we all objected . We hated the hairdressers! The lady would get the clippers and cut the back of our hair, like a boy. It was awful! We hated it! If the sirens went off we used to say, "Hope the hairdresser is bombed!"
Presumably you weren't allowed any sort of jewellery?
Ooh no! What was jewellery in those days? Winnie and Margarets' aunt Sarah, (she was elderly) sent them some beads, but they were always kept on their dressing table, they never wore them only at Christmas with their best dresses. We would have a party at Christmas.
And I suppose, when you were getting to be a teenager as well, you might have liked to sort of experiment with make-up, but I presume that wouldn't have been allowed?
Oh, there were no such thing as make-up. Olive's mum bought her some lipstick once, and ma said, "What are you going to do with that?"
Ruth had some tin curlers, so we tried to curl her hair, we pinched a bit of sugar and put it in water and combed all this sugared water through her hair, then we put these tin curlers in and then all her hair became white and sugary! We couldn't get it out! That was quite funny.
How did you feel though, you know, comparing your life before you went into the home with your life afterwards, it must have been very different?
Yes. We used to play on the street, you know, whip and top, skipping along the Aylestone Playing Fields.
Can you tell me about how the environment was at the time, how Highfields was during the war.
Well, the houses were really nice houses. I mean the vicar lived on East Park Road, our Sunday School teacher did too. There were quite a few of the folks who used to come and look after us who lived in the area. The church was always full on a Sunday, about 70 or more people filled the church. Mr Chandler, he was the church warden, and Father Huntley was the Vicar . Ma used to go to
St Peter's Church. That's where I got married before it lost it's spire.
Spinney Hill park, now that had a big hole dug in it, and all the soil went along the other side of the fence in the park, near the poplar trees, they've been cut down. The lads used to ride up and down on their bikes and run up and down the hills.
And what happened with the hole they dug in the middle?
The hole? Well, it was filled with water, and a big concrete casing put round it, and I don't know whether there was anything on top, but somebody did get drowned in it.
We had a shelter built in our backyard, it was underneath an ammunition factory! Oh, it was quite funny, that! Ma used to let us stay in her sitting room, the french doors used to be open in case we had to run to the shelter. When we slept in the shelter we were in all these bunks. Coventry came in for the very bad bombings. Tichborne Street got a lot of the bombing here in Leicester.
After the war, when the King and Queen drove through the park, I was in the Guards then, not the Guides- it was the Salvation Army Guards who leader looked after us.
When the King and Queen came, they wanted two girls to stand with the standards at the gate, so me and Betty Matthews stood one side of the gate with the flag, and I stood the other side with the Salvation Army flag and the Union Jack! The King and Queen came through and the King saluted the flag! The minute that the car had gone, everybody was running across the park to go and get another view of them.
We were diving around, we had to put the flags away very quickly.
The victory parade was about 3 miles long and it lasted ages. The streets were packed with people coming back, you had to be careful your shoes didn't get stuck in the tramlines. The trams used to run up East Park Road.
It was a number 32 tram, East Park Road. It would go up to Evington Road and then back into town along London Road. Then it would come back up the Humberstone Road, then Barnabas and East Park Road and along that area.
Did you have buses as well?
No, we didn't have buses.
/HL When they had the 1947 bad winter, the snow was about 6 foot high with 'walls' all along the road. We had to dig gaps for people to cross the road.
Yeah! When it started to thaw there was water everywhere. There was a big manhole cover at the park gates. The water started coming up through the ground so we had to go and tell everybody to put a plank across so that people didn't fall in the hole! We always had floods in our cellar where the coal was, and the water came right up the cellar steps!
We had to wade through the water, but the year was very bad. Ma had thought about the cellar being flooded, so we had some coal put outside the back door. The only trouble with that was that all the snow fell off the roof and it was buried! Buried under about 6 foot of snow!
It was about that time when Ma had a nervous breakdown. Yes, she went away. We had a Mr and Mrs. . . I don't think I'd better tell you their name.
I'll call them Mr and Mrs B. They looked after us, they'd got a little girl of about 5 years old, we used to take her into Leicester for her ballroom dancing. All very posh. This is where we started to think there was other things in the world, you know?
One day we went to meet her and there was a lorry, it had shed a load. All these daffodils were all over the road, so we were just picking up the daffodils and we took them home. We forgot all about getting this little girl. We went back into the home and Mrs B. says, "Where's Pat?" Ooh God, we had forgotton all about her!
There was a hairdresser on Moat Road, Ann Marie Hairdressers. That was ma's hairdresser, not ours. Mrs Cooper lived there with her husband. I used to go round there sweeping up the floor, and generally helping her tidy up. She had a baby. I used to babysit for them. That was another thing, we were beginning to get out of the home for a little bit longer.
Was there rationing during the war, did that sort of affect you at all?
Ooh, yes. There was rationing. The rations used to come from the receiving home on a Thursday or a Friday. When ma was away this Miss Gillespie, she made us put the groceries away, so it was like bags of sugar had to go in the sugar bin, cereal oats for the porridge, and while we were unpacking them the tea fell in the porridge!
We couldn't get all the tea out of the porridge because every time you put your hand in, it was sort of mixing in with the porridge. So we told Miss Gillespie (who had very bad eyesight and couldn't see hardly anything) who said to leave it as it. So when the porridge was cooking at night, we thought, "Oh, it smells alright." We went to bed, but the next morning we found all this brown, tea leaved porridge coming through the hatch. We had to eat it else we couldn't go to the cinema!
What did it taste like?
As one of the girls said, "If you shut your eyes it's alright!" So I said, "Well, you eat mine then! It was quite funny really, I think a couple of the little ones were sick on the way to the pictures.
Did anyone think of evacuating you to the country?
You stayed in the city?
Yes. No evacuations for us.
We lived near the gasworks before we went in the home, on Lothair Road. As I say, they bombed Cavendish Road. I think the bombs were meant for the gasworks. But they missed, and with living on East Park Road I think we were pretty safe.
But there was bombing in that area during the war, wasn't there?
quite a few little places got the odd bomb or two. Tichborne Street, Upper Tichborne Street. Ma used to call us out of bed, get us all downstairs, then she would put the cocoa on. We used to always have a mug of cocoa while the bombing was going on. We sat there and sang hymns, or wartime songs, or even, "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain ".
Did you feel frightened?
No, I didn't feel frightened, it was lovely! I used to enjoy it! There was a knock on the door one night, we were sitting there in candlelight, ma said, "Oh, I wonder who that is?" "It's the Germans ma, it's the Germans!" Anyway, she said, "You stop here." We stopped in the cellar while she had to go right up to the front door. We went to the cellar steps to see who it was, and it was Father Huntley,the Vicar. He always used to come and see us, and he also had a mug of cocoa with us! Ma used to say, "Are you going to sing some hymns?" We said, "Oh no, no." We would tuck our legs up in our nightgowns and wrap the blankets round us and hide!
One night, she said, "Is everybody here?" My sister was still in bed. She was a bit deaf, you see. It wasn't found out until a long time afterwards. She was the one who had to go into hospital. At the end of the war my other sister went into hospital, you know, she went to a convalescent home at Holt in Norfolk.
What happened when you got to 14? Did you have to start work?
Well, if you didn't go home to your parents, you just had to be fostered out. A social worker would come and take you to the new foster home. I was going to another school and living in this foster home. My sister went to this art school but what normally happened was they'd go home with their parents and lived with their mother or the father or whatever and then that was it, it was end of the homes. There was no further help, you were out on a limb really.
You were considered to be grown up then.
Yes. So you walked up the entry with your satchel and three pairs of knickers! That was it, you were out! But we felt free, you know? We skipped off into the mist. I was fostered out to an old couple, older than my grandparents. I didn't get on very well there. Then they sent us to another one on Thurlby Road, that was in the same area as Highfields, just off Humberstone. We stayed there for a few years, it was quite nice there but you still had to be in at 8 o'clock at night. I went to night school just to be out a bit longer, because that was on until 9pm so I could stay up till half past.
So you were still studying all day and in the evenings as well?
Yes, that's right. I didn't go to college. I should have done, but nobody said, "You've got to go to college now." They wanted you to earn some money. So I went to do some machining at Chilprufe. That was on East Park Road and St Barnabas Road, everybody went there. I hated it. I said I wanted to be a designer. I wanted to design children's clothes or adults' clothes, but it didn't happen.
Were your parents better by then? Had they recovered?
So did you stay with the foster parents whilst you were working at Chilprufe, or did you move then?
I got a job at the warehouse in Ash Street, and at the Co-op, typing. That's what I'd been to night school for. I went to live with my sister in her foster home in Eggington Street. I was with a Mr and Mrs Hall. My sister was at college, and I was at the Co-op, and that's when I met my husband. He was a policeman. The police had been to the college for a dance or something like that, and my sister met him there. We were walking along the London Road when I met him because he walked us back to Eggington Street. He lived in Saxby Street which was quite handy! He liked bell ringing in his spare time. They didn't have any at St Peter's Church, or St Stephen's Church. They had some at St Saviours, but he didn't go there. He used to go a bit further afield, to Loughborough or Leicester Cathedral. He would also go to St Mary De Castro ringing the bells. That was in our courting days. We got married in the August.
Did you live in Highfields after you were married?
Yes, we lived in Saxby Street. That's when we first started our married life. There was other people living in this house that was in digs with us. One was an Indian named Tom. He married this white girl named Maureen and but he was ever so nice. He had fits. We often fished him out of the bath when he was shaving, because he had a 'fit' in the bath.
An epileptic fit?
Yes. Anyway, eventually he died because he fell on the fire.
Oh! How awful!
Yes, but I mean, it was bad in those days, wasn't it? I mean, if nobody's about to catch you or be with you all the time.
Were there many Asians in Highfields?
Well, we were beginning to get a few families down Saxby Street, not as many as there are now, of course. But they were beginning to come. When I went to work at Lee's shop in Leicester they used to come in there, everything became quiet if you saw a black man. I think it's terrible these days that children should can't say, "Baa Baa Black Sheep", and things like that. I mean, it's getting the racist thing now. At school we used to have different religions, and if you were of a different religion you could leave the hall while they had the assembly.
Were there many Jewish children in Highfields that you knew of?
Yes, there was. I didn't know many myself, if any. I can't really think of anybody. But the Synagogue was on the Mill Hill Lane then. When we went on the swings once, we saw the
S.ynagogue over the walls and that's how we knew there was a Jewish community. We didn't know anything about Jews.
They kept themselves to themselves, would you say?
Yes. They'd probably be at a different school, probably a grammar school, or a private schools.
They tended to be well-to-do people?
Oh, definitely, yes. Jewellers and businessmen and tailors. I used to work for H G Gold. They were situated in Rutland Street. There was a little factory there and they lived off Stoneygate. I used to go and clean for them and look after their children. The lady of the house used to cook special things. Their meat had to be killed by special people. Everything was in pristine condition you know. It was luxury, silver candlesticks on a polished table, on the sideboard there used to be a little thing on the door as you went in, like a little bolt, but it wasn't. I don't know whether it was a Jewish message. I forget what it was now, but it was something stuck on the top as you went in the front door. I suppose if I did a bit of research, I would find out what it was. This little boy of theirs had asthma so that's why we used to have to throw all the bedding downstairs, and they just had lino on his floor, it was the sparsest room of the house. But it was nice working for them.
Did you move from the first house. Did you stay in Highfields or did you move out of Highfields?
No, eventually we got a police house. That was back up the Saffron Lane again. We were in the police house for a few years. That's when I had my first little girl, Glenys. I had another baby, Valerie. We then came back to Quorn. I had several moves in the police force really. He left the city force and came into the county force.
How did you feel about leaving Highfields after you'd really been there most of your childhood and as a young woman? Did it feel like you were leaving home?
No, it didn't really because in a way, we were glad to go, not from the area itself but I suppose from the memories.
When you go back there today, it must seem very different. Has the area changed?
Well, my sisters and myself went back to St Stephen's Church but it's exactly the same as it was. Apart from the building it was full of black people. Really, it's better now. The personality of the church has changed, people are welcoming there, they're not all staid.
It's High Church, isn't it?
Yes, it is. Father Irwin, he's there now, he's lovely. He and all his black congregation are lovely people. We had a cup of tea with them in their little room at the back that used to be the factory canteen during the war. It was reverted back after the war to a youth club
. It was lovely to go back.
There's quite a few of the streets have been rebuilt and and changed, haven't there?
Yes, but I don't know which ones apart from the schools on Melbourne Road, they've all been changed. Lots of buildings round there have altered. I don't know what Mere Road was like.
And the roads? They have put traffic calming devices up haven't they?
Oh have they? Well that'll be to stop these joyriders I suppose. I remember there were some little choirboys who set fire to the brook because there was some diesel floating down the brook, and they set fire to it, it was so funny! I mean, how can you set fire to a brook?
Must have been a shock!
Yeah. I don't think it was very much though. I think it was just some spillage that there was at the time. The choir boys would come to the home and shout, "We want the girl in the red hat!" We couldn't go out, you see. After church, they used to come and shout up to the window, and ma used to clear them off.
Were you allowed to listen to the radio?
Well, it's funny that is, because when you were the eldest girl, she got ma's supper ready, and took it in to her, and then we all went to bed. We were all in bed anyway, apart from the eldest girl. I used to sort of try and be one jump ahead of her and get ma's supper ready. On Friday night, the Friday Night Theatre was on, and Ma always listened to it. Or Paul Temple or something like that. And if she'd got her supper in the sitting room, we used to have a loudspeaker in the dining room, and used to creep down the stairs, sit on the stairs and listen to the serial or Friday Night. Then, as soon as it was finished, ma was out of the sitting room, and we ran up the stairs quick. It's strange really, because when I was at the home, ma gave me my birth certificate and it'd got the wrong birth date on it! I was the eldest all that time! So really it was an anti-climax, you know?!!!
Yes! Was the home actually run by the county council in those days? Or was it some other body?
Well, I think it became the county council in 1946. I think the home was run partly by the council, but it used to be the Public Assistance and the Poor Law. I've tried to get records at the records office. They've only got odd books there, the date you went in and the date you left, you know. But they haven't got any photographs.
Every Christmas morning we had our photograph taken with the Lord Mayor outside the receiving home on Mill Hill Lane. Then Councillor Court, he used to give us all sixpence, and where the sixpences went, who knows. I don't know where they went. We never spent them!
You didn't have the sixpence?
No, we never spent them. It's funny you know, when you think about things I often wondered what did they did with that sixpence.
Did they give you pocket money?
No, not at the receiving home, but we had threepence for the cinema when we went to the East Park Road girls' school.
But not a whole sixpence of your own?
Ooh no! I think I left the home with a shilling.
Gosh, so they sent you into the world with nothing basically!
Very little, and not knowing anything. I mean when I started my periods, I'd been away to Countesthorpe as I'd got "housemaids" knees. I'd got boils, chaps, chilblains. Ma was away with this nervous breakdown. Mrs B looked after us and I just shouted downstairs, "Oh, Mrs B, I've got blood in my knickers!" And she said, "Well, have you had it before?" So I said, "No, I think it's from the boils!"
Oh dear. Was she helpful?
Oh yes, she was.
But no attempt had been made to prepare girls for what was going to happen to them?
Not really. Only at school, when Miss Gilbert said that you'd have eggs come down once a month.
Well, they didn't tell you you would bleed as well, you know.
Oh dear, perhaps they were hoping people would leave before it became necessary to tell them.
Yes. But it was a subject avoided, you know?
Then she gave me this pad, and this bit of elastic with a hook on it, and I said, "Well what do I do with it?" She said, "Oh, we'll bathe the boils later."
Oh! So the standard of health care left something to be desired?!
Yes, it did really. You know
we were always clean, we had a bath on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week. We had a strip wash, you know on other nights. We always had clean clothes to wear, a vest, combinations, knickers, a liberty bodice, a blouse, black stockings, a tunic, that was it. I think we were quite warm then! Yeah, we didn't know how to put these combinations on, because they were like a vest with legs, and you had to get through the top bit, pull it up, then button up at the neck. But they'd got a big hole in for your backside and a bit at the front it was quite funny! You used to have to do PE in these combinations at school with navy knickers. We had sewing every Thursday night. We used to sit there moaning! It was awful. "Oh, I can't thread this needle." "Oh, there's not enough elastic, these buttons are horrible. " Ma used to say, "Get on with it!"
Did they do things like take you to the dentist, or the optician?
The dentist was on Evington Road, and Mr Grainger, he was quite nice, but he used to come to the home first, and then examine us with this carbolic thing. First in the mouth, and then he would pop it back in the carbolic again. Ma used to tell us who'd got to go to the dentist. There was a bell on the house with a piece of metal sticking out, and you had to pull it. The thing nearly came off the wall you know! Anyway we went in there, and there was all these Picture Post magazines, and geographicals. It was that first time we saw the Picture Post, with all the photographs of the war.
They were terrible!
But you'd not heard the news yourselves at all, so it was more of a shock to you. In a way you were perhaps isolated from what was going on at the time.
Yes, we were.